The Santa Monica Public Library is facing a 40% reduction in funding as the city of Santa Monica makes deep cuts to avoid a budget deficit brought on by the coronavirus recession.
If City Council approves a $5.5 million reduction in its $13 million budget, the library will eliminate 26.5 full-time positions and lay off 80 as-needed pages, said Patty Wong, director of library services. Forty-seven remaining employees will circulate between three locations that will reopen, working to maintain safe access to books and computers and facilitating programs online and in-person.
“It’s scary, intimating, difficult and sad, but at same time something we’re committed to doing because we have this incredible economic stressor ahead of us,” Wong said. “We have the responsibility to the public to provide the best service we can regardless of what the circumstances are.”
The library closed its five locations in March to slow the spread of coronavirus. The Fairview and Ocean Park branches will remain closed for the foreseeable future, and the system’s three most popular locations — the Main Library and the Montana and Pico branches — will reopen on limited schedules when stay-at-home orders are relaxed.
The Main Library will be open from noon to 8 p.m. during the week and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Library staff will deliver books to patrons at the curb and some computers will be available on the first floor. Boks may need to be quarantined for up to three days after they are returned, Wong said.
Residents will be able to access the Pico Branch from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The branch will prioritize youth, family and language programs in partnership with Virginia Avenue Park.
The Montana Branch will be open on Mondays and Wednesdays from noon to 8 p.m., offering workforce development programs, literacy classes and online high school for adults.
Wong said the library chose 8 p.m. as a closing time to give people the ability to access the library after work.
“If those hours don’t work, we’ll shift them,” she said. “The goal for us is to be more flexible and see what the community needs.”
When the libraries reopen, full-time staff that were previously dedicated to one location will rotate between the branches, Wong said. And because the city has laid off as-needed shelvers, librarians will have to pick up the slack.
“Staff are going to have to take on multiple roles,” she said. “Our full-time staff will have to shelve, which is not best use of their time. Unless we had volunteers, we would like to bring back a small crew of as-needed staff to help us shelve — otherwise, it will take much longer to get things back in order.”
Wong said even with a smaller budget and staff, the library sees itself as a key part of the local recovery effort.
With a rising number of adults out of work, Wong said the library will double down on workforce development programs, including skill building, reading and digital literacy, and jobs matching programs.
She said maintaining services to youth and families will be difficult with more than 80% of youth-serving librarians laid off, but added that the library has a large catalogue of virtual children’s books, has been experimenting with online children’s programs and plans to continue free youth tutoring programs when branches reopen.
“Even when we are going to focus on youth services and families, we won’t have the expertise to be able to do that well,” she said.
But online reading and programs won’t be accessible to all library patrons, Wong said. She said she is hoping to tap internet service providers to sponsor internet access for low-income individuals and families, and continue one-one-one tutoring for youth and adults by putting up clear barriers between instructors and patrons.
“We want to meet people where their needs are, including technology and internet access, but also a human connection in a safe and productive way,” she said.
Wong said the library has been calling senior members to perform wellness checks and will continue to provide senior programs, especially classes that help older adults understand how to make use of online resources.
‘They’re the most vulnerable in terms of exposure, so we may go to where they are instead of expecting them to come in, maybe by bringing out loaning libraries,” she said.
The library could eventually scale staffing and programming back up if more funding becomes available, Wong said.
She said the library is exploring working with “partner agencies” to provide services at the shuttered Fairview and Ocean Park branches, which she worries could attract vandalism and other types of crime if they remain closed.
But if the city restored $2 million in funding, the library could reopen all five branches five days a week, Wong said.
“We would love to build up again,” she said. “This next year is going to be about experimentation.”